People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
I’ve got to be honest, when I read this passage, images of the children’s sermon come to mind. I hear a church congregation singing, “Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear, things I would ask him to tell me, if he were here . . .” I see a herd of kids rising up from their seats and making their way to the front of the church dressed in their Sunday best. The scene lands somewhere in between a Norman Rockwell painting and a Precious Moments figurine.
This is exactly what is not happening in this text. Yes, the children were converging in on Jesus, but nobody was singing. The disciples rebuked the kids, shooing them away from Jesus. This made him really angry. One of my colleagues has an acronym he uses when he is about to lose his religion: OTVOBI. It means “On the Verge of Being Infuriated.” Mark uses the very harsh term “indignant” to describe Jesus’ emotional state.
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.
Earlier, Jesus took something of a pro-death penalty position for anyone who causes children to stumble (i.e., better that they have a millstone hung around their neck and be thrown into the sea, a.k.a. concrete boots). In the first century, children had no status. They would have been considered like property. Some think Jesus is conferring status on children. I don’t think so. He’s actually saying status is the problem. Jesus all at once protects the vulnerability of children and extols the seeming non-value of their powerlessness.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
A child brought nothing to the table to offer in any kind of exchange. A child possessed no merit that would permit them access to any mode of privilege. A child could only receive what was given them. They had no claim on anything. Jesus lifts this state of being as the requirement for entering the kingdom of God. Any merit or claim or power of any kind must be checked at the door of the entry into the kingdom of God. The most powerful people in society can only enter the kingdom of God if they can receive the invitation in the same way that the most powerless people do.
Consider this hypothetical scenario. You’ve worked all your life to save enough money to be able to have a comfortable and even indulgent retirement. You have everything you want and more money in the bank than you could spend in two lifetimes. You didn’t win the lottery. You earned every dime of it and you are living the dream. Now suppose you came to the border of a kingdom of unparalleled prosperity, a place of abundance for all who lived there with infinite room for more. As you approach the gate you see hundreds of people crossing the border without issue, only they are mostly poor people and children and prostitutes and the sort. At the border, you are welcomed to enter the kingdom, only they want you to know one thing before crossing over. Your wealth, privilege, position, and power will have no value in the new country. Because you will have no need of it, there is no need to bring it in. One more thing, in the new country, the King’s promise is that you will live in this place of free abundance forever.
I think that’s why Jesus picks up a child to make his point in this very adult sermon.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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